It’s hot outside, you are stuck at home and you want a nice beer to refresh. Try Kolsch. What’s that? Listen up. Cologne, Germany aka Koln is the home of Kolsch syle beer. It is scenic city on the Rhine River that makes an interesting light colored and light bodied beer style that is actually an ale but cold finished like a lager. It uses an ale yeast meaning it top fermenting i.e. the yeast rises to the top when brewing instead of sinking to the bottom. Ales are normally brewed at warmer temperatures than lagers yielding a fruity/floral taste. The lager finishing is done at a lower temperature for smoothness after the initial brewing.
So what you get is a neat hybrid beer that has the spice/fruitiness of an ale with the smoothness of lager. Best of all worlds! On a hot day it can be refreshing and thirst quenching especially when drunk in the sunshine outside. If you need a lager alternative that isn’t overly dark, malty or hoppy this might be something you like. This could be your lawnmower beer.
But which ones are good?
Let’s start with the actual German ones so that we get a feel for the beer style and what the locals think it should taste like. I had the opportunity to taste these on tap in Cologne when there for a week on a business trip and they are worth seeking out. Technically for a beer to be called kolsch in Europe it has to be brewed near city limits per the German beer purity standard. But that only applies in Europe not USA, Canada, Australia etc. That’s why outside Germany they call is “kolsch style ale” but most brewers and people call it kolsch.
Oh yeah the way they are served is unique too. The waiter serves them up in 200 ml (6 oz) glass stemless flutes as fast as you can drink them from a tray of them. “Why such small glasses?” I asked. “Because you want it fresh and crisp not flat. If I gave them to you by the liter they would be flat and stale by the time you got to the bottom.” Good answer. Tip earned! There a bigger flutes too as in 300 ml and 400 ml but I recommend going with the 200 ml size to keep the crisp taste.
Reisdorf: This one seems to be more popular outside of Germany than in it. If you go to a beer specialty store you will likely find cans of this red one. It’s good and worth seeking out. It’s malty and has a nice bite on the end of it. One could drink these all day, especially on tap. Their neon sign of the beer man filling up is nice touch too.
Gaffel : Harder to find in the USA but also quite good. A bit stronger and with a more intense malty flavor in my view, at least from the bottle.
Fruh: This one is a big seller in Cologne from what I understand. It’s light, refreshing, crisp and delicate. One could drink these all day. In my view this the lightest one. If you are a fan of light lager beers try this one first.
Sion: Hard to find in the USA but ok too. This one was a bit watery with a strong hop bite. Not sure if my bottles were skunked but they had a stronger taste than expected. The wife normally likes Kolsch beer but not this one and gave the bottle back to me to finish. Lucky me I got two bottles.
In the New World versus Old World
Once you know what the style is supposed to taste like you can move onto variations on the style. Some are very true to style whereas other are loosely based on the style with some stronger hop variations. There are many microbreweries worldwide making good kolsch style ales. Here is a sampling of ones I have tried only but I am in search of others to try.
Occidental of Portland, Oregon: In my view this is the closest thing to real kolsch served in Germany of the ones I have had. The color is spot on. These guys have done their homework. I could serve this to my German friends blind and they would swear it’s legit. It has the right hop bite without being overpowering but still being light bodied and highly crushable.
Seattle Fremont Brewing Pride Kolsch: Also excellent and quite smooth. Well balanced with a little hop bite.
Alaskan Kolsch: This is was good too but a bit too heavy and malty with a darker color and more hops than expected. They seem to use Northwest hops. A nice twist if you like an ipa type beer and like your beer with more bite. Some people have said this is an alt beer. It’s surely not, as those are dark and sweet.
Widmer: Hoppy for the style. Perhaps this is due to using cascade or some Northwest hops. Not bad but not true to style in my view, more of a regional adaptation.
Sierra Nevada: Good with a strong hop bite. You IPA lovers will like the bite of West Coast hops on this one.
More coming…stay tuned
Oh yeah and since this blog focusses on frugal living make sure to buy the cans/bottles and drink at home while sharing with friends to keep the cost down!
Return those bottles and cans too to get the deposit back! It adds up. Recycle beer into more beer!